I want forgettable broadband

INCA’s Malcolm Corbett posted a LinkedIn blog on his experiences of upgrading his broadband to a Hyperoptic Fibre to the Basement service (FttB), and a good read it is.

This got me to thinking about my own experience of using VDSL over recent years.

In terms of the mechanics of installation, I’d have to say mine was at least as easy but I had the added bonus of not having to campaign; BT selected my home area as part of their commercial footprint so all I had to do was order. An Openreach engineer came to the house, installed the modem, tested it and left – all over in a few minutes with no real fuss. Not the near-gigabit service that Malcolm has but a respectable 72 Mbps (I can see the cabinet out of my study window).

All I had to do was connect my router, configure it, and start using the service; the ISP I’d chosen didn’t offer their own routers, although many do. This seems to be almost perverse supply – the more you pay for your broadband the less stuff you get but more of that in a moment.

Just as Malcolm experienced, getting the broadband to reach the all the corners of my house was a bigger issue. I had a dual-band “gigabit” wireless router but the service on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands was patchy around the house. In the end I installed a “gigabit” powerline connection to the other end of the house to regenerate the signal. Even still, neither the “gigabit” wireless or the “gigabit” powerline get close to their promised speeds but they do deliver considerably more than that 72 Mbps VDSL speeds so I’m happy enough for now.

Like Malcolm, my ISP would offer no advice on how to get the most out of the service – in fact I was told it was a policy of the company not to endorse any solution beyond BT’s demarcation point. At the time I was happy to enough to find a solution that worked for me but this is an area I suspect just about every ISPs could, and should, do better on.

I’m now entering my third year with the service so a chance to reflect.

The service has been reasonably reliable with one day-long outage which was efficiently fixed by BT despite my ISP telling me it would be 3 days before anyone would start work on finding a solution.

If I contrast my current service with my old ADSL connection then I say its a faster but slightly more expensive and less transparent version of what I had before.

However, I do have two bugbears and a gripe with the service:

Since  being installed, the service has gradually got slower and is currently averaging about 58 Mbps – that’s a 20% reduction in performance for a reason nobody want to solve, which leads me to the second issue;

The two box installation with a closed Openreach modem means unlike ADSL I have idea where the problem lies – is it my ISP choking the service or is it a problem with BT’s VDSL equipment?

Its now an option for me to replace my router with one with an integrated VDSL modem which would help me get to the bottom of why I’ve lost 20% of my broadband speed but why should I have to buy a premium, specialist router to find out who’s mucking up my service?

A two box installation isn’t generally an issue with a Fibre to the Basement, like Malcolm’s Hyperoptic service, or Gigaclear’s Fibre to the Premise – Ethernet, whether its over copper or fibre, either connects at the advertised speed or it doesn’t connect at all.

I could change to a another ISP but as none of them seem to be transparent about the traffic policies they impose and many offer even more closed solutions with locked down routers as well the modem, its not clear I’d gain much by moving.

This is a million miles from my old Be ADSL service, where not only did they help make sure you were getting the best from your kit, they gave your a portal where you could see every detail of your connection – and tune it they way you wanted. With the Be support staff on-hand together we increased my 6 Mbps by almost 50% by altering the ADSL settings in the exchange.

I’m not aware of anyone offering anything approach that kind of service over VDSL – please get in touch if you know better!

It worth noting that the founders of Be are also the founders of Hyperoptic, the service that Malcolm is so pleased with.

My longer term issue is that whether its 58 Mbps or 72 Mbps its already not really enough. Mine isn’t an especially geeky household but I do have typical teenagers. We transfer around 500 Gbytes per month, which I know from talking to the new breed of NGA operators isn’t huge but it is fairly high by traditional ISP standards, and I suspect that if my service were delivered by one of the new breed of operators it would be a higher. But it does mean that at peak hours we become conscious of our broadband capacity, and not infrequently find we have to ration who uses what.

I want my broadband to be like my gas, water and electric – I have no idea what capacity I have from any other utility but I know their capacity has never been an issue. When my daughter runs one of her frequent baths, the washing machine doesn’t stop boiling my son’s rugby kit ; when the oven is on the lights don’t dim; and when the heating comes on the gas hob doesn’t start slow cooking – but my broadband hasn’t reached that point yet.

I want to be like Malcolm and enjoy the kind of service appearing in the ever growing number of properties serviced by Hyperoptic, or within the ballooning footprint of Gigaclear. I want a broadband service I can forget about.

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